March 5, 2013

Oppenheimer Was Alarmed By The Rise of The Military-Industrial Complex

Professor Andrew J. Bacevich wrote in 2011 in his article, "The Tyranny of Defense Inc.":
In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower famously identified the military-industrial complex, warning that the growing fusion between corporations and the armed forces posed a threat to democracy. Judged 50 years later, Ike’s frightening prophecy actually understates the scope of our modern system—and the dangers of the perpetual march to war it has put us on.
President Eisenhower wasn't the only esteemed figure in the American political system who was critical of the growing power of the military-industrial complex and who used his position and prestige to inform the American people about the dangers it posed to liberty. Another WWII hero, J. Robert Oppenheimer, also foresaw the dangerous threat to democracy posed by the national security state in the post WWII era.

Read this excerpt from the Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Oppenheimer called, "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer," by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. Published in 2005 by Alfred A. Knopf: New York. Pg. 549-550.
"For a few years after World War II, scientists had been regarded as a new class of intellectuals, members of a public-policy priesthood who might legitimately offer expertise not only as scientists but as public philosophers. With Oppenheimer's defrocking, scientists knew that in the future they could serve the state only as experts on narrow scientific issues. As the sociologist Daniel Bell later observed, Oppenheimer's ordeal signified that the postwar "messianic role of the scientists" was now at an end. Scientists working within the system could not dissent from government policy, as Oppenheimer had done by writing his 1953 Foreign Affairs essay, and still expect to serve on government advisory boards. The trial thus represented a watershed in the relations of the scientist to the government. The narrowest vision of how American scientists should serve their country had triumphed.

For several decades, American scientists had been leaving the academy in droves for corporate jobs in industrial research laboratories. In 1890, America had only four such labs; by 1930 there were over a thousand. And World War II had only accelerated this trend. At Los Alamos, of course, Oppenheimer had been central to the process. But afterwards, he had taken an alternative course. In Princeton, he was not part of any weapons laboratory. Increasingly alarmed by the development of what President Eisenhower would someday call the "military-industrial complex," Oppenheimer had tried to use his celebrity status to question the scientific community's increasing dependency on the military. In 1954, he lost. As the science historian Patrick McGrath later observed, "Scientists and administrators such as Edward Teller, Lewis Strauss, and Ernest Lawrence, with their full-throated militarism and anti-communism, pushed American scientists and their institutions toward a nearly complete and subservient devotion to American military interests."

Oppenheimer's defeat was also a defeat for American liberalism. Liberals were not on trial during the Rosenberg atom spy case. Alger Hiss was accused of perjury, but the underlying accusation was espionage. The Oppenheimer case was different. Despite Strauss' private suspicions, no evidence emerged to suggest that Oppenheimer had passed any secrets. Indeed, the Gray Board had exonerated him of any such accusations. But like many Roosevelt New Dealers, Oppenheimer had once been a man of the broad Left, active in Popular Front causes, close to many communists and to the Party itself. Having evolved into a liberal disillusioned with the Soviet Union, he had used his iconic status to join the ranks of the liberal foreign policy establishment, counting as personal friends men like Gen. George C. Marshall, Dean Acheson and McGeorge Bundy. Liberals had then embraced Oppenheimer as one of their own. His humiliation thus implicated liberalism, and liberal politicians understood that the rules of the game had changed. Now, even if the issue was not espionage, even if one's loyalty was unquestioned, challenging the wisdom of America's reliance on a nuclear arsenal was dangerous. The Oppenheimer hearing thus represented a significant step in the narrowing of the public forum during the early Cold War."